Category Archives: Psalms

The Psalms: An Anatomy of All the Parts of the Soul

I have been accustomed to call this book (Psalms), I think not inappropriately, “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;” for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.  Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.  The other parts of Scripture contain the commandments which God enjoined his servants to announce to us.  But here the prophets themselves, seeing they are exhibited to us as speaking to God, and laying open all their inmost thoughts and affections, call, or rather draw, each of us to the examination of himself in particular, in order that none of the many infirmities to which we abound, may remain concealed.  It is certainly a rare and singular advantage, when all lurking places are discovered, and the heart is brought into the light, purged from that most baneful infection, hypocrisy.  In short, as calling upon God is one of the principal means of securing our safety, and as a better and more unerring rule for guiding us in this exercise cannot be found elsewhere than in the Psalms, it follows, that in proportion to the proficiency which a man shall have attained in understanding them, will be his knowledge of the most important part of celestial doctrine.  Genuine and earnest prayer proceeds first from a sense of need, and next, from faith in the promises of God.  it is by perusing these inspired compositions, that men will be most effectually awakened to a sense of their maladies, and, at the same time, instructed in seeking remedies for their cure.  In a word, whatever may serve to encourage us when we are about to pray to God, is taught us in this book.  And not only are the promises of God presented to us in it, but oftentimes there is exhibited to us one standing, as it were, amidst the invitations of God on the one hand, and the impediments of the flesh on the other, girding and preparing himself for prayer: thus teaching us, if at any time we are agitated with a variety of doubts, to resist and fight against them, until the soul, freed and disentangled from all these impediments, rise up to God; and not only so, but even when in the midst of doubts, fears, and apprehensions, let us put forth our efforts in prayer, until we experience some consolation which may calm and bring contentment to our minds.  Although distrust may shut the gate against our prayers, yet we must not allow ourselves to give way, whenever our hearts waver or are agitated with inquietude, but must persevere until faith finally come forth victorious from these conflicts. In many places we may perceive the exercise of the servants of God in prayer so fluctuating, that they are almost overwhelmed by the alternate hope of success and apprehension of failure, and gain the prize only by strenuous exertions. We see on the one hand, the flesh manifesting its infirmity; and on the other, faith putting forth its power; and if it is not so valiant and courageous as might be desired, it is at least prepared to fight until by degrees it acquire perfect strength. But as those things which serve to teach us the true method of praying aright will be found scattered through the whole of this Commentary, I will not now stop to treat of topics which it will be necessary afterwards to repeat, nor detain my readers from proceeding to the work itself. Only it appeared to me to be requisite to show in passing, that this book makes known to us this privilege, which is desirable above all others — that not only is there opened up to us familiar access to God, but also that we have permission and freedom granted us to lay open before him our infirmities which we would be ashamed to confess before men.

John Calvin (1509-64), The Author’s Preface, Joshua. Psalms 1-35, xxxvi-xxxvii

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Friend of Sinners Forsaken to Save

Psalm 22

To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.

Many bulls encompass me;
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O LORD, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the LORD!
May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the LORD,
and he rules over the nations.

All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.

See also Matthew 27.

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The Word Become Flesh: The Secret of the Psalter

psalmsThe Psalter occupies a unique place in all the Holy Scriptures. It is God’s Word, and with few exceptions it is at the same time the prayer of human beings.  How are we to understand this?  How can God’s Word be at the same time prayer to God?  This question is followed by an observation made by all who begin to pray the Psalms.  First, they try to repeat the Psalms personally as their own prayer.  But soon they come across passages that they feel they cannot pray as their own personal prayers.  We remember, for example, the psalms of innocence, the psalms of vengeance, and also, in part, the psalms of suffering.  Nevertheless, these prayers are words of the Holy Scriptures that believing Christians cannot simply dismiss as obsolete and antiquated.  Thus they do not desire to gain control over the word of Scripture, and yet they realize that they cannot pray these words.  They can read them as the prayer of another person, wonder about them, be offended by them, but they can neither pray them themselves nor expunge them from the Holy Scriptures…. [T]his difficulty actually indicates the point at which we may get our first glimpse of the secret of the Psalter.  The psalms that will not cross our lips as prayers, those that make us falter and offend us, make us suspect that here someone else is praying, not we – that the one who is here affirming his innocence, who is calling God’s judgment, who has come to such infinite depths of suffering, is none other than Jesus Christ himself.  It is he who is praying here, and not only here, but in the whole Psalter.  The New Testament and the church have always recognized and testified to his truth.  The human Jesus Christ to whom no affliction, no illness, no suffering is unknown, and who yet was the wholly innocent and righteous one, is praying in the Psalter through the mouth of his congregation.  The Psalter is the prayer book of Jesus in the truest sense of the word.  He prayed the Psalter, and now it has become his prayer for all time.  Can we now comprehend how the Psalter is capable of being simultaneously prayer to God and yet God’s own Word, precisely because the praying Christ encounters us here?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45), Life Together, 53-55.

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Fascination with Fireworks and the Wonder of God

Summer heat holds the air.  The bronzing sun falls beneath the horizon.  As the blanket of darkness is pulled across the sky people young and old flee their homes seeking wonder.  Masses gather gazing towards the heavens anticipating the genesis of their amazement.  The hush of the crowd is broken by a cannon-like burst followed by a breach in the night.  The blackness of the evening’s ceiling is in a moment undone by the flash of multicolor pearls of light.  One after the other, the sky is illuminated, leaving children and the aged awestruck alike.  With mouths gaping and eyes fixed, everyone’s mind is filled with wonder and their hearts are carried away for a brief time.  As the sky darkens once again the multitude hastens back to their dwellings, singing the praises of the glorious display of power and artistry they have just witnessed.

Two thousand years ago this would sound like an appearance of angels, possibly to shepherds on a hillside, but today this is a yearly occasion for Americans – any one of the Fourth of July events centered upon a fireworks display.  The question that arises from such an occasion is why do we find such wonder and amazement in fireworks?  Why do they, year after year, from our youngest days to the day of our death, cause us to stand in awe? I do no think it is not simply because they are loud to the ears or spectacular to the eyes, though they are.  It is not simply because fireworks awaken the inner child within us all, who finds amazement in the simple pleasures of life, though they do.  I believe it is something deeper.  Something deep within us as well as something greatly outside of us.

The reason, I believe, we find such wonder in fireworks is their shadowy reflection of our Creator and mankind’s universal knowledge of Him.  Just think about it for a minute.  We were created by God, bearers of His image, to know Him and to enjoy fellowship with Him.  Mankind was appointed as vice-regents of creation, to be under-creators, being made in His image.  But something terrible happened.  Mankind was not satisfied with his position and sought to become more like God through his own efforts.  Rebelling against his Creator, the human race fell from its exalted position, marring the image of God though not destroying it.  While, before the fall, all human creativity and work was to be a reflection of God Himself, bringing Him glory, now, after the fall, mankind creates and works for his own glory, though a tension or better yet an unfulfilled desire exists.  Since all of creation was meant to point to and be a testimony to God’s glory and might, when we enjoy, find amazement in, or set our affections on something/one created our hearts cry out for something greater.  Something greater than ourselves.  Something greater that the world around us.  Our hearts cry out for God.

So how do fireworks fit into this picture.  Who is praised after the fireworks are over?  The manufacturers, the firework technicians, or the proprietors of the place putting on the show are all the usual recipients, but rarely ever is God praised.  Fireworks are a creation of man for the praise and enjoyment of man.  Still bearing the image of our Creator, we create and continue to do so unknowingly as a reflection of Him.  Fireworks are mere glimmers of creativity and power in comparison to God and His creation.  Just look past the fireworks and you will see the wonder, the beauty, the power of  God in the expanse of the heavens and the heavenly bodies that fill it.  The Psalmist proclaimed, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).  While fireworks come and go in an instant, God’s creation continues on.  Stars continue to shine, planets perpetually revolve, and we, here on this earth, minuscule in comparison to all things, still live.  It is He who in the beginning “created the heavens and the earth”, who spoke and said, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light”, and who at the very moment “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Amazing!  This, I believe gets at the root of our awe of fireworks.  In those moments we catch a glimpse of the most spectacular fireworks display ever, God creating.  To ignore this is to deprive ourselves of seeing and enjoying God’s glory in creation reflected through His image bearers.  It is to deny the very reason we were created.

This God is still at work today, not only upholding all things but is at work undoing the effects of our sin in us as well as in the world.  Not only do we need to stand in awe of the Creator of all things, we need that same God to illuminate our hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit, for our hearts are a dark void just as the world was before God spoke light into existence.  We all need what Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  Without this light given by the grace of God the only wonder and joy we will ever find in this world and for eternity will be in fleeting flashes, shadows of beauty, and quiet echoes of something more.

Enjoy the show, stand in awe and wonder, but remember that behind all that you see is the hand, the reflection, the presence of God.

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The Depression Defying Power of Preaching to Yourself

The depressed self tries to take over. Don’t listen to him. Talk to him. Yes, those who fear for your stability may think your depression means you’re crazy. Risk confirming their suspicions by talking to yourself! You have Psalm 42’s permission.

In his classic work Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd-Jones reflects on Psalm 42 and advises thusly:

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: “Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you. . . .”

The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: “Why art thou cast down”—what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: “Hope thou in God”—instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: “I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God.”

The depressed person must defy his depressed self. Stop listening; start talking. Don’t blather. Don’t mumble. Take hold of yourself and preach! Proclaim glad tidings of great joy. (This is not the same as positive thinking or “word of faith” theology’s false doctrine of the tongue’s power. That is magic. This is preaching the sufficiency of Christ.) Tell yourself that you are loved by God, that Christ has died in your stead, that the Spirit lives in you, consecrating you to God and guaranteeing your salvation. Inform yourself that Jesus is your defense attorney, that he pleads his blood in response to every charge brought against you. Tell your depression that its days are numbered, and even if it should—God forbid—last till your dying breath, it will thus be vanquished for all eternity while you escape to everlasting joy. That’s thumbing your nose at it! It won’t win. Christ won, so Christ will. You will outlast your depression, because Christ in you, the hope of glory, will outlast it.

Most of us have a tape that plays in our head. The tape is set to repeat, and its accusatory message loops over and over. The tape may play a message from the Devil or perhaps something that has burdened us since childhood. I have a tape that plays in my head every now and then, something that comes from the neuroses of my childhood, my desire for significance, and my timidity. Your tape may say any of the following:

  • You can never be forgiven.
  • God doesn’t love you.
  • Jesus didn’t die for you.
  • You aren’t smart enough to trust Jesus.
  • You aren’t holy enough to trust Jesus.
  • You are the failures of your parents.
  • You are the failures of your children.
  • You are your failures.

Our devilish accuser and our accusatory self are very innovative. They hear from us what would be the most crushing thing to hear, and that is what they record for us to listen to.

My tape says this: You are only as good as what you haven’t done.

This toxic message wrecked my inner life as a child. I would achieve or express talent, but it never seemed good enough. The voice inside always asked, “But what else? Is that it? That’s the best you can do?” This voice has been with me a very long time. It plays sometimes at a whisper, sometimes at full volume, at inopportune moments. When I have made a mistake as a parent, as a husband, as a pastor, it may blare in my ear without warning. It says “so what?” about any success or affirmation I have had; it asks “what else?” It tells me that I am only as good a parent, a husband, a pastor, or a Christian as my failures in these areas.

Since my moment of gospel wakefulness, the tape plays much less often, but when it does, I know just what to do with it. I do what you ought to do when your tape plays. Don’t press pause. Press eject. Remove the tape, drop it to the ground, and crush it under the heel of Christ, who is your righteousness.

Don’t listen to your tape anymore. Don’t trust your own reasoning. You can’t trust yourself when you are depressed. Richard Sibbes wrote a powerful little meditation for the depressed and the discouraged called The Bruised Reed, in which he tells us:

We must not judge of ourselves always according to present feeling, for in temptations we shall see nothing but smoke of distrustful thoughts. Fire may be raked up in the ashes, though not seen. Life in the winter is hid in the root.

You can’t trust depression, no matter how “reliable” it is. Defy yourself by believing God is doing something in and through you that you can’t see. Gospel yourself!

Your proclamation to yourself may sound something like this:

My soul is cast down within me;

therefore I remember you

from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,

from Mount Mizar. (Ps. 42:6)

The psalmist is remembering something else now. He remembers times of God’s closeness. He remembers God’s historic faithfulness. He remembers the land of Jordan, where the river gives lush land, where the Israelites crossed from wandering to the land of promise. He remembers the land of Hermon, the pearly snow-capped summit, a height of heights. He remembers Mount Mizar, a smaller range, perhaps a place of exile and comfort. Whether these memories are personal recollections of places of intimacy with God or general recollections of God’s goodness to his people, the climax of God’s historic and localized act of faithfulness is this: the cross of Christ.

Is your soul cast down within you? Remember God, therefore, from the land of Judea and of Jerusalem, from Mount Calvary.

Always remember the cross, which is the historical verification of God’s justice and mercy. The cross is proof that God loves sinners.

Jared C. Wilson, Gospel Wakefulness, Chapter 8.

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Satisfying Goodness or Bitter Emptiness

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!”

Psalm 34:8

Just these few words communicate an eternity of truth.  Not only do they sum up Psalm 34, but are truly a summary of all of the psalms.  Furthermore, these words reveal an overarching theme of the entire Bible – the LORD is good!  This phrase is crucial for our understanding of God.  First, the proposition “the LORD is good” is a truth claim about God’s nature – not just who He is but what He is essentially. God is Good!  This means that He cannot be anything other than good, which leads us to our next point.  Verse 8 says, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!”, emphasizing not only God’s nature but His actions as well.  Since God is good and cannot be anything other than good, whatever He does, commands, wills, and speaks is good, regardless of human comprehension or judgment.  God is good and all that He does is good.

Knowing that God is good is essential for trusting Him.  There are many times in our lives that we cannot comprehend how something happening to us or someone else can possibly be good.  If we do not know that God is good how can we trust Him.  If we think of Him as some cosmic moral policeman, waiting to strike you down any chance that He gets, then you would be hesitant to trust Him in those dark moments.  Knowing that the God, who is sovereignly working in all things, is good, enables you and I to trust Him no matter what we may experience.  Our confidence or trust cannot rest on our extremely limited comprehension, but upon the God who is good and only does that which is good.

Not only is God’s goodness crucial for our understanding of God but it is crucial for those  who have not tasted of the Lord’s goodness in Christ Jesus.  The world does not see God as good, though He is gracious to all.  They see pain and suffering in the world and accuse God of evil or deny His existence.  They say that either He is unwillingly to stop evil and therefore not good or that He is unable to stop it and therefore not God.  Not only that, but those who do not know of His goodness see those who claim to be His people and rather than being left with a satisfying taste of God’s goodness, they have a bitter taste in their mouth.  The verse says, “Oh taste and see that the LORD is good!”  If we, God’s ambassadors through Christ, wrongly represent the One who alone is good (Lk 18:19), we are preaching a false and deadly gospel to the world in word and in deed.  Gypsy Smith once said, “There are five gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Christian and most people will never read the first four.”  God’s goodness is exemplified in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – the gospel.  As those who have tasted and seen the Lord’s goodness in salvation, and will continually do so for eternity, we have a calling to be, speak, and live the goodness of God in the gospel before the world.  People are watching, waiting, and longing for that good news and for the satisfaction that only comes through faith in Jesus.

What taste are you leaving with people?  Satisfying goodness or bitter emptiness?

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